HONOKAA — Even as Hilo closed in on the Little League Major Division championship berth, it was hard not to think back to what had happened two days earlier.
In that District Tournament game for 11- to 12-year-olds at Honokaa Park, North Hawaii had stunned Hilo with eight runs in the sixth inning for a comeback victory.
On Monday, North Hawaii almost did it again, as Hilo saw a seven-run lead nearly slip away. But this time, Hilo held on for the victory — its second of the day over North Hawaii — and the Big Island title.
“I was really nervous,” said Paul Antony, who pitched the final 3 1/3 innings of Hilo’s 10-8 victory.
North Hawaii scored three times in the top of the fifth to slice the deficit to two, but Antony hit a line drive to center field in the bottom half of the inning to score Ocean Gabonia, who had laced a two-out double to deep center a batter earlier. That put a little less pressure on Antony in the top of the sixth, even after Kaimi Hook hit a one-out home run.
“I was just so happy I brought in an extra run to help me when I pitch,” Antony said.
North Hawaii coach Lane Yanagisawa kept hoping for another big comeback, even though he knew history was unlikely to repeat itself.
“Wishful thinking,” he said. “You can’t always base it on our fingers (being) crossed.”
North Hawaii could have won the title earlier in the day, but after Hilo needed just five innings for an 11-1 victory that forced a decisive final game. When Hilo scored seven runs in the bottom of the first, it looked like another mercy-rule game was more likely than a dramatic finish.
“We started off slow,” Yanagisawa said. “The first game didn’t help us for our morale and our confidence. The beginning of the second game, we were kind of on the ropes from the beginning, but the kids never gave up.”
Gabonia hit an RBI double and the first five hitters in Hilo’s lineup scored in the seven-run first inning, thanks in part to three North Hawaii errors.
North Hawaii cut into the lead in the third inning, as Hilo starter Dayson Urbanozo-Moses struggled with his control. RBI singles by Luke Kaniho and Hook were the only hits North Hawaii had in the big inning.
“In the first game against them, that’s what gave the game to them — our pitching,” Hilo coach Earl Moses said. “We couldn’t throw strikes. They loaded the bases and got a key hit. This game was running into the same problem. My boy, Dayson, was on the mound first. Ran into problems, third inning. Paulie came on, ran into problems. Had to get pumped up to finish it, but he did the job.”
Antony relied heavily on his curveball, and seven of the 10 outs he recorded came via strikeout.
The top of Hilo’s lineup was potent, with Ryan Cabreira, Gabonia and Antony combining to go 8 for 11 with three doubles.
“They gave us fastballs to hit,” Moses said. “My kids all love the fastball. They can hit the fastball.”
North Hawaii’s Hook also doubled in the game, leaving him a triple short of the cycle.
Hilo will host the Maui champion for a best-of-three series July 12-13. The fact that it was already scheduled to be played in Hilo wasn’t lost on Moses’ players.
“It was very important for us to win because we’re hosting the tournament in Hilo,” Urbanozo-Moses said. “We said we want to be in the tournament very badly and play Maui.”
Urbanozo-Moses helped Hilo get off to a great start in Monday’s first game. After Antony singled to drive in Cabreira, Urbanozo-Moses blasted a home run over the fence in right-center field to make it 3-0.
Hilo added an unearned run in the second and two runs in the third, including an RBI single by Cabreira.
North Hawaii got an unearned run in the third, when Kaniho reached after striking out and came around to score on an error.
Hilo starter Jaystin Lewi threw a three-hitter in the five-inning game, with Kaniho doubling in the fifth.
“Their pitchers kept us off balance all morning,” Yanagisawa said. “That was key, because we were stacked. All of ours were good to go. We could use any pitcher. They were kind of limited, but managed them well.”
Moses was able to breathe a sigh of relief after the final out of the second game.
“Very happy to get out of here with two wins,” he said. “The boys are happy. I’m happy, but I give it all to North Hawaii. This is the first year they’ve given us a hard time like this.”
North Hawaii 001 00 — 1 3 4
Hilo 312 14 — 11 11 1
North Hawaii 004 031 — 8 6 5
Hilo 702 01x — 10 11 3